“A lot of people feel powerless right now. Giving back can help us all feel more empowered” – Nina Richard
The world we find ourselves in is uncharted. Navigating it requires two things: a mindset for survival and hope – hope that the businesses that were once successful will continue to be again. And a hope that the world as we know it will restore and renew in time.
We spoke to Nina Richard, the founder of NR Bookkeeping, to hear her account of the last few weeks and how she is continuing to support her clients.
LEARNING ACCOUNTING FROM THE GROUND-UP
After graduating from college with a major in Education in 2008, Nina Richard started working as a junior underwriter and soon became the in-between for clients and computer programmers, speaking both business and programming languages.
After marrying the two, she joined a lawyer and tax attorney’s office.
“I built an interface that would track every document that came in and soon moved into the same room as the attorney. Through listening to conversations, I learnt tax, accounting and IRS case resolutions from the ground up. At the end of 2017, I became the Chief Operating Officer and face of the firm.”
“Tax time was always such a crunch. There was only so much time to get books together and they would often have to be extended. Income was also heavy between March and May, then died off. I employed two bookkeepers and provided monthly bookkeeping services to clients, helping them know their profit and loss. When the firm eventually decided to downsize, I left the firm and the bookkeeping clients came with me.”
RELOCATING TO MAINE FROM FLORIDA
In 2017, Nina Richard made the decision to move from the southeastern most state of Florida to the northernmost state: the wilderness of Maine. She brought her bookkeeping clients with her.
“I relocated from Florida to Maine towards the end of 2017. At the beginning, I didn’t advertise and focused on getting everything settled and ready for my existing clients in Florida. Here, it’s a very different economy. There are many small businesses and self-employed workers who can’t afford an accountant or CPA billing at a hundred plus dollars an hour. I offer a completely virtual system with Quickbooks Online and Receipt Bank. It’s more affordable and means my clients can concentrate on their business.”
SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES
Since the start of lockdown, Nina has introduced additional measures to support local businesses. These include free consultations for potential new clients and complimentary tax returns for those in need.
“One of my clients has made and shipped $10,000 worth of masks to help give back to the community. I’m a firm believer that the businesses that give back right now are investing in their futures, while helping those around them. For me, I want to be my clients’ biggest cheerleader.”
“I’m the first one my clients talk to. I decided from the very get-go that I would not charge on any additional hours spent on calls. I haven’t charged a penny in the last three weeks (before guidance on making emergency applications at no extra cost). I’ve talked more to my clients in the last month than in the last year.”
“I’ve always offered free consultations to businesses, on the basis that I can only offer value once I have the information I need. If I have a conversation with a potential customer, I may not have the answers by the end. Or, I’ll know that I’m not the solution to their problem.”
“A week ago, a lady asked a simple question about the books. Over the phone, we looked at her Quickbooks Online account and realised that it hadn’t been done right. By the end of the conversation, we had a call booked in a fortnight and she is now a client.”
“I make these consultations free because I am not the keeper of the financial information. If I give recommendations to someone over the phone then they go away and take it upon themselves to do it on their own, they’re not the client for me. They’re usually the kind of person who will not give up control.”
“In the last few weeks, I’ve also completed free tax returns for anyone that would not normally have to file, or for people who are disabled, retired veterans or low-income. All of the usual volunteer sites are now closed. It takes me just thirty minutes to complete a tax return and it means they can get the economic payment they need.”
THE SURVIVAL MINDSET
For Nina, heavy snowstorms have punctuated the pandemic. Crucially, her approach to economic or natural disaster has been marked by a steady head and patience for recovery.
“We had a huge snowstorm last week. Eight inches of snow fell and a tree branch landed in the yard. Now another storm is on its way, and it’s a case of ‘We’ll deal with it’ when it gets here. Likewise, if a client is worried about the future and considering an emergency loan, I try to encourage them to be patient. Everyone is in the same situation right now. This is different to the financial crisis in 2008, which affected some but not others. This affects everyone.
“I think that many business-owners want to say to their employees, ‘I’m here for you no matter what’. Not being able to is weighing on them heavily.
“When your clients feel like the world is falling apart around them, it’s so important to be calm, formative and supportive. I try to report only on true guidance from the IRS and treasury department, and avoid anything that’s speculative or inflammatory. If you stick to the numbers and deal in fact, it can help offer factual guidance and support.”
KNOW THAT IT’S OK TO TAKE TIME OUT
As work and home quickly become one and the same, it’s crucial to separate the two. Contrary to the widespread belief that working from home reduces productivity, stats suggest that the risk of burnout in fact increases.
“You have to make the time for yourself, and put in the limits and barriers to avoid burn-out. At the beginning, I was working up to 15 hours a day – starting at 6am, working solidly until 6pm, then writing emails and social posts in the evening. Last week, I reached the point where I realised I’ve got to do what I need to do. It’s ok to take a two-hour lunch break. It’s ok to leave work at four o’clock to take a break. It’s ok to do those things.”
“Now, I will only respond to clients during work-hours to avoid an ‘always-on’ precedent.”
“Right now, we are inundated with information. If you read or listen to the news constantly, it can really get you down and inflame worry. Here in the US, it’s either bringing people together or widening the divide. I don’t watch the news. I try to read what I think is important and then stop.”
“If you can step away from the news and concentrate on getting some fresh air or even binge watching Tiger King on Netflix, then do it. For many of my clients, at the start they approached lockdown as a change of life that would last for just a few weeks. Now we’re a month in, we’re starting to realise that this really is the new normal. We need to focus on doing what we used to love again, just a little differently to what we’re used to – taking up a yoga class remotely, now we can no longer go into the studio, or getting restaurant food delivered rather than eating in.”
We need to focus on doing what we used to love again, just a little differently to what we’re used to – taking up a yoga class remotely or getting restaurant food delivered rather than eating in.
“I’ve been taking more time for myself. Being locked up in the house is tough. On Sundays, we go on a drive through the Maine wilderness. At each intersection, we’ll decide whether to go straight, left or right. And we just see where we end up.”